Initial Release Date: 19th July 2017
You awaken in a stone bath after hundreds of years of sleep in a cavernous room with a glowing path on the floor, but with no idea how you got there. So begins your journey to discover what happened to the others, and to find out who you are…
Aporia, from the Ancient Greek meaning “a philosophical puzzle”, is a text and dialogue-free puzzle platformer from Copenhagen-based Investigate North and published by Green Man Gaming. If you’re a fan of point-and-click or puzzle platformer games then you will love Aporia, but to help you decide we’ve put together a list of 5 things that make Aporia: Beyond The Valley great!
#1: Stunning Graphics
Every single graphical element in Aporia has been painstakingly considered, from the soft glow of light emitted by pathways and your Vial, to individual leaves on trees and bushes; Investigate North have taken the time to ensure that every moment you spend in the game takes your breath away. If you ever find yourself struggling to figure out a puzzle you can simply stop and watch the sunset, see the mist curl through the trees, and take a deep breath. For the most part the game is completely relaxing, helping you keep your focus as you wander through the abandoned wilderness looking for your next clue.
However, these gorgeous graphics are also used to play on your basest fears, to drive you into a wild panic at a moment’s notice. The use of light and shadow is inspired, and the hooded creature that lurks in the mist is terrifying in its formlessness. You find yourself jumping at innocent shapes caught in the corner of your eye, running from the movement of branches in the breeze, and fearful even of the very lights that are supposed to guide you. Being able to achieve such perfect serenity in one moment and triggering your fight-or-flight response in the next is a mark of how thoughtfully the developers have used this imagery to guide you through the story.
#2: Immersive Audio
As with the graphics, the audio elements in the game have been lovingly created to completely immerse you in the game. Whether you’re searching crumbling ruins for clues or wandering through the forest, Aporia makes you feel like you’re actually there. The background music perfectly complements the atmosphere of your location, and either relaxes you or builds tension depending on the scenario you’re in. There is also an important absence of sound in places; no birds chirping or other ambient noise really drives home how utterly abandoned areas of the game are, as well as how dangerous it must be for you to be wandering around alone.
Speaking of danger, you will find certain audio cues get your heart racing before you even see what is causing them, and blindly fleeing can either ensure your escape… or your capture. One moment you will be skipping along, minding your own business and looking for the next piece of the puzzle, perfectly happy and enjoying the atmosphere of your surroundings. The next moment the music will change, or you will hear the crackle of ice, and you whirl around, desperately looking for the source of your fear, not sure whether to run or stay put and hope it passes you by. It’s rare for a game that doesn’t have a specific horror element to it to so perfectly instil fear in the player like this, and the developers have created an antagonist that can have your blood running cold with a single simple sound.
#3: Challenging, Not Frustrating
Much like all puzzle games, there are definitely certain elements of the game that are difficult and frustrating at times. The side quest, for example, where you have to locate numerous small shards to fit in a door, can have you tearing your hair out as you hunt for the final piece or two. With a map that doesn’t tell you where you are, and only shows basic information about your area, it can be hard to keep track of where you’ve looked and where you haven’t. There are landmarks available, though, so once you figure out where you are it’s easier to determine where you need to go. This adds an extra layer of difficulty for the player, especially when you’re fleeing the hooded creature in the mist.
That being said, none of the puzzles in Aporia are impossible. Even the shards can all be found without the help of a walkthrough if you’re really meticulous. None of the puzzles are so difficult that you can’t either figure it out with some time and consideration, or get through it with trial and error, or a small dose of pure luck. Yes, it can be frustrating when you need a beam of light to hit a certain mirror and it just does not want to go where you want it to, but there are a finite number of options and eventually you will reach the solution even if you’re not quite sure what to do. If you’re a fan of classic adventure games that have puzzles that are only difficult because they’re completely nonsensical, these logic-based puzzles will be a breath of fresh air for you.
#4: Small, But Well-Rounded
While the main game is technically quite short and can be completed in just a few hours, shard side-quest notwithstanding, Investigate North have packed a lot in to those few hours. There’s no lengthy walking around or epic load times, and there are a lot of little things to do in between each puzzle element so you never feel like you’re just moving from A to B. If you’re looking for 100+ hours of playtime then you’re looking in the wrong place, but the developer estimates around 4-8 hours of play time and that’s more than enough to appreciate everything Aporia has to offer.
The map itself is deceptively small; it feels a lot bigger than it actually is if you look at the overview, and part of that is clever use of doors and blockages. For example, quite early on in the game you come across a bridge with a pile of boulders blocking the path beneath it, but once you complete that section of the game you find yourself on the other side of that path. It’s a neat way to utilise a small space, which also keeps down loading times and also gives the player a greater sense of being in this abandoned place. You aren’t being warped from one area to another by magic from space or anything like that, you’re simply finding alternate routes to get where you need to go.
#5: Emotive, Compelling Storyline
Despite having zero text or dialogue throughout the entire game, Aporia still somehow manages to pull at your heartstrings and really make you feel for the people of this forgotten land. Most of the story is told through projections, and can be interpreted in many ways. These interpretations are given more depth as you progress along the story, and help to shape the way that the player sees the world around them, as well as how they feel about the characters involved. Other parts of the story are told using paintings that can be found throughout the world, and while some of these simply show the villagers going about their daily lives, others depict tragic events that have occurred and really give you a sense of how these people lived.
Between the projections and the paintings you might think that there is little more storytelling involved in Aporia, but there are little hints and snapshots of stories elsewhere in the game as well. Whether it’s a couple curled together in a corner, arms wrapped around each other as they wait for death, or a skeleton with its arms outstretched, barely inches away from salvation before it expired, these snippets of the state of the world when whatever disaster swept through are heart-wrenching. And though it starts off innocently enough, the main story is also very moving and will colour the choices you make towards the end of the game.
So there we have it, there’s plenty to love about Aporia: Beyond the Valley. Check out our review here